Voices of 100%: Youth Propel a Climate Action Plan in St. Louis Park — Episode 128 of Local Energy Rules

Date: 21 Apr 2021 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb of 48 thousand residents, has a clean energy goal rivaling that of its larger neighbor. Will the city’s smaller size help, or hinder, its efforts?

For this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell speaks with St. Louis Park Council Member Larry Kraft and Sustainability Manager Emily Ziring. St. Louis Park, Minn. is committed to carbon neutrality by 2040. Farrell, Kraft, and Ziring discuss the youth organizing that started it all, taking climate action in a small city, and how innovative ideas will help the city reach its goal.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.

Emily Ziring: When it comes to filing comments, that’s something that we really believe is important. We really want to advocate for our own climate action plan and our own goals. And so making our voice heard at the public utilities commission or what the current clean cars rule making going on is something that’s really crucial. And so we file comments. Anytime there’s a rate case or any kind of other major case that comes up, we want to make sure that we are getting our residents and the worker’s voices heard.
John Farrell: What happens when youth get organized around climate change in their community? In St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis, local high school students were the catalyst for the city to adopt an ambitious clean energy plan and they continue to be involved in its implementation. Council Member Larry Craft and Sustainability Manager Emily Ziring joined me in February, 2021 to talk about the youth roots of the city’s climate efforts and the ways it is powering the city on its road to net zero energy. I’m John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, and this is Local Energy Rules, a biweekly podcast sharing powerful stories about local, renewable energy. Larry and Emily, welcome to Local Energy Rules.
Larry Kraft: Thanks, John. Great to be here.
Emily Ziring: Thanks John. Thanks for having us.
John Farrell: So I like to start off conversations by just learning a little bit about what motivation folks have had to get into the sustainability and renewable energy space. Cause I think it’s interesting, helps kind of tie together how these commitments that cities have made are really built on the people who have become invested in them. So Emily, why don’t I start with you? What, what has motivated you to work at a local level on climate and clean energy? What got you into this?
Emily Ziring: It really makes sense to engage people where they are and to demonstrate to them what’s possible in their own backyards. The local government is the government that people interact with more than any other, whether they realize it or not. Residents of St. Louis Park rely on government when they turn on the tap or drive to work or play basketball in the park. Meanwhile, climate action at a national or global level, or even a state level can seem really daunting or unapproachable. So I really think meeting people where they are and showing them what’s possible is really vital.
John Farrell: How about you, Larry? What’s gotten you to this? I know a little of your history, but I think it’d be great to share with some of our listeners.
Larry Kraft: Well, about eight years ago, I decided to make a change. I spent 25 years in the tech industry and as my kids are growing up and putting away money for college for them, I became just increasingly terrified about the future we’re leaving our kids around climate change. And so I decided to try to do something about it. I didn’t quite know what, but after a while I wound up running a small national nonprofit called iMatter that worked with young people and helped them take action at a local level on climate change. And one of the first groups I worked with was here in my hometown of St. Louis Park. They went before the city council back in 2016 and did some amazing work that led to our climate action plan. And so I was looking at that about a year and a half ago, two years ago, and thinking we had this tremendous opportunity now in St. Louis Park to build on that work and make the community better, stronger, healthier, more environmentally sound, and be an example for others. And so that’s why I ran for office and why I’m kind of doing what I’m doing.
John Farrell: One of the things, I think it’s great, and I think this will tie into some of your story and coming to clean energy yourself, Larry, is that St. Louis Park has been pretty active in climate and energy planning for several years. So in 2016, there was this community planning guide that the city released we’ll link to it in the show notes for folks who want to see more. And it has a really concrete steps around, like, commercial energy use mapping and retrofits, as well as local solar. I’m just curious, like, how did some of those initial steps turn out from that community planning guide have, have some of those things happened that that folks organized around it and why?
Larry Kraft: Actually I was, that was when I was starting to get involved. And I was part of that team that put that together, looking back on it. It was, yeah. When thinking about this, there are a number of things that did happen, right? That, that came out of that. One of the things was a climate action plan, youth involvement, some of the work around commercial buildings. I think I’m looking, provide more color on that, that formed the basis of things that we’re doing today. So as in anything, not everything was done in that, but a lot of very concrete things happened and it formed the foundation for a lot of things we’re doing today.
Emily Ziring: Sure. I mean, I think Council Member Kraft is absolutely right. We’ve refined some of the strategies from that initial energy action plan, but it really did lay the foundation for our climate action plan. For instance, we now have a benchmarking ordinance in place so we can target the highest energy users rather than just looking at the top 100 largest businesses to take action on energy efficiency. And we are going to be using that benchmarking ordinance to reach out to those businesses in the next few months. We also have a big new push for renewable energy. Um, and local solar has really grown this month. We rolled out a new pilot program called Solar Sundown, which reimburses property owners for a portion of their rooftop solar that they install this year because we really want our residents and business owners to have more power over their energy. So I think that document was really vital in getting us to where we are today.
John Farrell: That’s great. I definitely want to link to some of those, both the benchmarking ordinance and then the local solar program, just to help folks understand. It’s one of the things I find so exciting about doing this podcast really is to be able to tell the story of what cities are already doing and acting as models for one another. I was hoping we could talk briefly about sort of the adopted renewable energy and climate policy. So unlike other cities, you started out with a net zero goal. So there’s a lot, I mean, a hundred, over 150 cities have said one hundred percent renewable energy. That’s our target. Could you explain a little bit why the city picked that overall goal focused on net zero and how you kind of saw renewable energy as like a necessary step as opposed to the be all end all?
Larry Kraft: Well, when the young people came before city council and they also got involved in this energy action plan, they, you know, they, they gave the city a report card actually. And, uh, the city got a B minus, including a D or a D plus on climate action plan. If there was one and their request was for the city to develop a, a climate action plan with a goal, they set the goal of net zero emissions by 2040. And so that was kind of the foundation level of where the city was starting from. And as we started looking at that thing, okay, how do we get to carbon neutrality where we’re not causing any more of the problem? It became obvious that the way to do that was to do electricity first and then electrify everything else on top of it. And so that led to, well, if we’re going to be shooting for net zero emissions by 2040, we should be aiming for a hundred percent carbon free, a hundred percent renewable electricity sooner than that. And we debated different dates at the time and came up with 2030.
John Farrell: I’m kind of curious about this. Cause I feel like this is part of the recognition of a lot of cities. In fact, a lot of cities their one hundred percent goal really is just about electricity and not about energy throughout the entire economy. You mentioned already that St. Louis Park is thinking about electrifying other things like cars and buildings. How do you imagine getting to that a hundred percent renewable electricity goal by 2030? I mean, it’s, you know, we’re down to less than 10 years. It used to seem so far away. And it’s like, now it’s 2021. What are some of the things, I mean, you’ve already got this local solar reimbursement, the solar sundown program, which sounds like a great step. Are there other things that you’re thinking about, about how you can get there to a hundred percent?
Larry Kraft: Yeah. One of the things that we did about a year ago, year and a half ago was the city itself signed on to a hundred percent renewable electricity from a wind source program so that the city’s operations is there. And we’ve had programs to encourage residents to do more of that. Now this solar sundown program is to build on top of that because one of the other goals we have is having 10% of our electricity provided by solar within the city, generated from within the city. So those are a number of things that we’re doing to get there as well as energy efficiency stuff, to reduce the amount of energy that that’s needed. It does help that Xcel has some aggressive goals of their own that will help us get there. We can’t do this on our own, but those are some of the other things that we’re thinking about. Emily.?
Emily Ziring: Yeah. Uh, we are doing a lot of outreach around rooftop solar, but of course not every property is suitable for rooftop, solar. And so we are also trying to engage folks and let them know about the green power programs so that they can subscribe to, wind source or renewable connect, and still get a hundred percent renewable electricity at their home or business, even if they’re not ideally suited for solar. So we try to not leave any stone unturned and remind folks what’s possible.
John Farrell: I’m curious, do you have any outreach around community solar? We’re sort of uniquely situated among a lot of communities across the country in that Minnesotans had, in Xcel energy’s territory at least, have access to community solar.
Emily Ziring: We have been looking to install our own community solar garden, somewhere in St. Louis Park. We just don’t necessarily have the land available to do that. It’s something we’re always hoping will become possible, but we also do educate people about how community solar works. If they’re interested in subscribing and potentially saving money on their utility bills, we certainly connect them to the resources to figure out how to do that.
Larry Kraft: There was an effort we did a couple of years ago with the young, with students where they got involved and actually going out and door knocking and letting people know about the possibilities of solar in their home, because we have a solar map of St. Louis Park that shows every building and every home and what the solar potential is. As part of that, even though it was discussing rooftop solar, the community solar possibilities were built into that. So if here’s one option, but there are others as well. So I think we try to talk about all of them when possible.
Emily Ziring: Yes. Thank you for mentioning that solar suitability map. It is on our solar webpage. If anyone wants to go check that out.
John Farrell: That’s great. Yeah. And I think that’s just such a great resource. It sort-of reminds me this little town in Northern Minnesota, Warren. I think there’s already some statewide maps thanks to the University of Minnesota, but they were also doing this for building retrofits where they got drones. So the local technical college helped them use drones with infrared cameras to fly over the community in the cold to see like which buildings were leaking the most energy. And so it was like an energy efficiency approach in terms of giving people some data, not just like, here’s a picture of the solar you could have on your home, but also like here’s a picture of how leaky your house is when it’s really cold out, we can help with that. So I just think that’s so great when communities find a way to provide folks with some of that context for their energy use and what the options are, right?
Larry Kraft: That’s uh, that’s really terrific. Sounds like a great idea. Emily, we should look into some drones.
Emily Ziring: I am happy to look into drones.
John Farrell: Well, if you do it, let me know. I think it’s one of the coolest things. It’s on my list to invite someone from Warren to come talk about that on our podcast. But, uh, anyway, I’m getting a little far afield. I want to come back to the climate plan. So this came out of that earlier work with the community work with the students, there’s sort of two parts to it. If I remember correctly, they’re sort of, there are these seven sort of midterm steps that are going to do some significant emissions reductions that includes like efficiency and other things. And then there was this list of seven potential approaches for sort of getting the rest of the greenhouse gas emissions, the harder to reach things. I’m kind of curious in terms of, when you’re thinking about those longer term items, is there anything you feel like would be easier to get off that list or, or maybe things that are particularly hard to manage at the local level? How do you deal with figuring out what things to prioritize off that more challenging list of getting yourself to the rest of that goal by 2040?
Larry Kraft: Hmm. Oh, so you’re talking about the, the, the further out ones, right? The more challenging ones?
John Farrell: Yes.
Larry Kraft: Well, I think you have to be open and listening to things that are going on. And then, um, you know, uh, I’ll give you an example, John, I was listening to one of your podcasts and learned about some pilots going on in New York state about using water mains as geothermal. So I’ve forwarded that to staff, the city said, Hey, should we look at this? Right. So I don’t know where these things are going to come from, but those kinds of ideas are stuff that, that I think we really should look at. Probably that one of the, of that list of seven things, one of the, I dunno, easier ones, but it would be around fuel switching. Not that it’s easy, but it’s something that we can think about over the next 10 or 20 years. How do we put in place the right education and incentives to help people as they do things like change out their furnaces or their water heaters to be changing to an electric option or a heat pump option versus just replacing with, with a natural gas option.
Emily Ziring: Yeah, I’ll add that a lot of those goals are, all of our goals really rely on cooperation from so many external groups. We’ve made really great strides, for example, in waste reduction. But until we shift away from a disposable society and until the manufacturers decide that they don’t need so much packaging, it’s going to be really difficult to reach our waste reduction goal. And there are some of those advanced technologies such as anaerobic digestion that are hard to achieve at the city level, just because the availability is really dependent on our partners at the County and in other cities. So I would say that this is one of those areas, or a lot of those advanced strategies are areas in which we use our voices to advocate for really good climate policy, as much as possible, and really lean on our partners in the nonprofit world and other levels of government to help us reach those goals.
Larry Kraft: I want to add one other comment you often hear at a local level, how do you deal with some of these things that you don’t control, right? You don’t control utilities, you don’t control some of those things. And I think that on a short-term level, you don’t right. You don’t, you know, we can’t change what’s going on with CenterPoint or Xcel over the next one or two or three years, but that’s, what’s useful to having this 20 year time horizon because over, uh, over a longer time horizon, you do have control over things to, to either advocate for yourself and band together with other cities at a state level, or put in place incentives to, to minimize, you know, natural gas or to minimize certain things that you face in the short term. So I think it’s really useful for us to have this kind of long-term goal because it forces you to think outside the box and to realize that you can control a lot more than you may think you can in the short term.
John Farrell: Yeah, I think a great example I’m thinking of it. That is, I know that I’ve worked with folks at the city of Minneapolis (a neighbor to St. Louis Park) and they’ve actually been intervening and making comments on Xcel’s resource plan. So Xcel has this 15 year resource plan saying, here’s what we plan to do. And the city is weighing in and saying, well, we have our own goals and here’s how they line up or not with Xcel’s goals and asking those public utility commissioners to modify Xcel’s plan to make it align better with what the city is doing. Does St. Louis Park do that out of curiosity? Are you involved in filing comments or things like that?
Emily Ziring: Let me just say that when it comes to filing comments, that’s something that we really believe is important. We really want to advocate for our own climate action plan and our own goals. And so making our voice heard at the public utilities commission, or with the current clean cars rulemaking going on, is something that’s really crucial. And so we file comments anytime there’s a rate case or any kind of other major case that comes up, we want to make sure that we are getting our residents and workers voices heard.
Larry Kraft: Another example is there’s an effort going now to really rethink how the state does building codes and  energy building codes. And we’re very much involved at a staff and, and at an elected official level in working with other cities and nonprofits to advocate for having building energy codes that will get down to net zero buildings by the mid 2030s, which is something else that you know, where we need help from the state. We can do a lot on our own, but we need help from the state policy to be able to achieve our goals.
John Farrell: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, we talk about the ongoing role of youth in the city’s climate work, the role of equity, a new climate podcast for small cities, and the advice that Larry and Emily have for leaders of other small cities making ambitious climate commitments. You’re listening to a Local Energy Rules interview with Council Member Larry Craft and Sustainability Member Emily Ziring from St. Louis Park, Minnesota about the city’s climate and clean energy goals.

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John Farrell: We already talked about this, I think in a few different cases, it’s clear from both the organizing documents around the city’s climate action and other stories that you’ve already shared that the city’s youth have really been involved a lot in setting the city’s goals. Could you share a little bit more about sort of how and why they got involved? Because I feel like a lot of other cities would want to see that kind of involvement happen, but it obviously doesn’t just happen organically.
Larry Kraft: Well, this ties back to the nonprofit that I was involved with, and iMatter back in, uh, late 2015, I was introduced to a student who is running the high schools Roots and Shoots environmental club at the time –  Jane Stevenson. And I explained to her this pilot campaign that we were just starting and she said, yeah, we want to, let me, let’s bring you in to talk to the club. And, and they just embraced it. And what it was, they came before council and they, they organized not just themselves, but they had a petition of close to half of the high school that signed in support of what they were doing. And they had lots of folks from the community out, in support of them. And they gave just a great presentation to the council saying, look, we need you to step up and do more. And the council, to their credit, I was not on at the time, listened and treated them with respect and seriously. And came back, a couple months later, unanimously adopted a resolution committing to these goals and to develop a climate action plan. Additionally, the thing that the young people were asking for was a seat at the table. They wanted to be involved in the process. And so as the climate action plan was being developed and it was done with the Great Plains Institute, the students were involved in the drafting of it and in setting goals. And so when that climate action plan was launched, they felt tremendous ownership of it and helped launch it to the community.

And then beyond that, they, they took that and they went to the school board and then push the school board and the administration to adopt similar goals. And after some initial reluctance, the school did adopt the similar goals as the city, and now has a plan to put solar on every school building in the district that will supply over half of the school’s electricity with renewable energy, um, in the coming few years. And what’s been wonderful to see is that this involvement has now passed down around the fourth generation of leadership of that club that is involved. And they, they have seats on the environment and sustainability commission, they have real ownership for it. You know, they have ideas that they bring when we do roll outs to, to the community. They are interested in being involved in helping that. And so really what it has been is treating them as real partners, them feeling ownership, and then also, you know, letting them, letting them own stuff, letting them run stuff.

Emily Ziring: Yeah, I would say the youth members have really been our eyes and ears for what’s happening at the high school and what students want to see from the city. Having two youth members of our environment and sustainability commission has been really, really valuable for us. And so it’s, it’s really a symbiotic relationship that we value.
John Farrell: That’s wonderful. I just love hearing about the ways that that youth can be tapped in the community. And it’s so great to hear too, that you’ve got multiple generations that have been able to continue being involved. I think sometimes there’s this impression that, you know, folks will graduate and move on and was just that particular person, but wonderful that you’ve been able to cultivate that. I want to pivot a little bit and talk about in the community guide, it talked about income diversity as one of the strengths of St. Louis Park. And you also have a history in St. Louis Park as a sort of refuge for Jewish folks who were escaping anti-Semitism and restrictive covenants elsewhere in the Twin Cities, you know, in the early 20th century. Are there ways that you feel like the city’s history as a place for marginalized folks is reflected in the goals that are outlined in the climate plan?
Larry Kraft: I think with the, the Jewish migration that you talk about that happened so much here in the fifties and sixties, it created a real DNA within the community of just accommodation and listening. And that I think gives us real strength as a community today, you can find goals around equity within the climate action plan. I would say probably not at the top level, but at the level below that, but what’s, what’s really powerful for us as we, as we implement this plan is that the city has five strategic priorities that the council looks at. And the top two really are around racial equity and environmental stewardship. And so I think the thing that is more important maybe than what the words say in the plan itself, is that ingrained in how staff and how the council looks at implementing this plan. And really everything we do is thinking about things from a racial equity lens.
Emily Ziring: Yeah, I would agree with that. I mean, the climate action plan was written before being a leader in racial equity and inclusion was one of the city’s strategic priorities. It was written before any of these current five strategic priorities were adopted, but it’s clear in the plan that underrepresented groups were considered when it was drafted. There’s a number of mentions of low-income residents, minority owned businesses specifically called out within a number of the goals and like council member Kraft said, we take steps to look at all of our program designs through an equity lens whenever possible. We really don’t want climate action to be something that only wealthy people can afford to do. And we certainly don’t want the economic benefits to be felt only by those who spend the most money. So we try to consider every angle of this whenever we’re implementing any kind of new program.
John Farrell: I want to ask you about your podcast. I know that you are developing a podcast on small cities climate policy. And I was wondering if you tell us a little bit more about it and how you feel it could inform your work in St. Louis Park.
Larry Kraft: Yeah, I was, about eight months or so ago when I, my wife got me into listening to podcasts and I found a bunch including yours. And as I was listening and thinking about it at the same time, being a new council member, I was really interested in ideas. And so I started looking for ideas that could help me in what I was doing. And I found some, but not anything targeted towards smaller cities. And by that, I mean the 10,000 to a hundred, 200,000 level. There’s, there’s lots of attention often placed on the large metropolitan areas, but there are some tremendous things going on in smaller cities. And so I contacted a friend of mine and, uh, she agreed. And so we started down this path and through that process, I have already learned a ton of things about what other people’s doing, that I’m bringing back into my work in St. Louis Park. And I’m hoping that with this podcast that we’re doing called City Climate Corner, it will help other cities as well with the focus is really an implementable ideas for, you know, small to mid-sized cities around climate mitigation and climate justice.
John Farrell: That’s great. I look forward to letting other people know about the podcast. We’ll definitely have a link in our show notes, but also I keep thinking about, ILSR has a tool on our website called the Community Power Toolkit, where we try to highlight some of those implementable things to do like, storylines of like, here’s a city and what it’s tried to do. So I look forward to trying to extract some ideas from your podcasts that we can use in the resources that we’re sharing as well. So thank you for doing that.

I’d like to wrap up with just a question that I ask everybody, which is, what advice would you have for other cities like St. Louis Park and, you know, maybe coming out of your podcast or Emily things that you found in terms of what St. Louis Park is implementing in, in setting and achieving ambitious goals, you know, what, what unexpected resources that you’ve found when it comes to setting and achieving ambitious goals?

Emily Ziring: I would say you really need to be flexible and open to new ideas. So just because an idea isn’t in your climate action plan, doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring. So although we try to focus most of our resources on policies and programs that provide the most carbon reduction bang for the buck, we really can’t afford to turn away new ideas given this crisis. When it comes to unexpected resources, I would just say, I read a lot and stay on top of what other cities and countries are doing to combat climate change. And I make sure to read not only climate focused news, but also urban planning news, transportation news, anything that kind of helps broaden my knowledge of this whole universe and what we can do.
Larry Kraft: Yeah. I would say the setting of the goal in St. Louis Park and some would say, wow, it’s, uh, it’s aspirational and it is aspirational. But having that aggressive 20 year time horizon goal requires us to think differently and maybe break through some walls that you didn’t think you could, you know, that if you’re just thinking about, well, how do I do things over the next year or two you wouldn’t think about, well, how do I change how utilities work, right? So I think having that long-term aggressive goal is really helpful, but even if you don’t have that, or you can’t do that, set a shorter term goal. I’ve seen more folks setting five-year goals, right? If, and if that’s the way that you can, that works for your city, then do it, right? But having that goal and then breaking down how to get there is really useful in terms of resources. I also, I I’ve been listening to a bunch of podcasts, not just certainly on climate related things, but also on zoning, on land use, on transportation policy, transit, things like that. What you realize is that climate change and climate justice, it’s not a single topic. It’s, it’s really in, in similar to racial equity, it, their organizing principles for how we need to think about governance, government and governance in general. So you get ideas from all different areas and really climate is everything as, as should racial equity be, it’s kind of everything that we need to be doing
John Farrell: Well, Emily and Larry, thank you so much for joining me to talk about what you’re doing in St. Louis Park. I think there’s a lot of great stories and examples that you can offer for other cities in that sweet spot to 10,000 to 100,000 range. But I look forward to sharing those stories with others. So thanks again for taking the time. Really appreciate it.
Larry Kraft: Thanks, John has been great.
Emily Ziring: Thanks for having us.
John Farrell: Thank you so much for listening to this Voices of 100% episode of Local Energy Rules with St. Louis Park Council Member Larry Craft and Sustainability Manager. Emily Ziring discussing their city’s aggressive action on climate and its roots in youth organizing. On the show page, look for links to the city’s climate action plan, its solar sundown rooftop solar program, as well as Larry’s City Climate Corner podcast for small cities. At ILSRs website, you can also find our interactive community power toolkit for examples of how cities have accelerated climate action, as well as over 100 episodes of Local Energy Rules. Local Energy Rules is produced by myself and Maria McCoy with editing provided by audio engineer Drew Birschbach. Tune back into Local Energy Rules every two weeks to hear more powerful stories of communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system. Until next time, keep your energy local and thanks for listening.


A Superb Suburb

Emily Ziring is the Sustainability Manager for St. Louis Park. Ziring got into local climate policy because she values policy driven by the people and because local government provides the most opportunity for community participation.

Climate action at a national or global level, or even a state level can seem really daunting or unapproachable. So I really think meeting people where they are and showing them what’s possible is really vital.

— Emily Ziring

Larry Kraft is a St. Louis Park City Council Member, but he has not always been involved in advocacy. After 25 years in the tech industry, Kraft decided to direct his efforts to combating climate change. In 2014, he joined the non-profit iMatter to bring youth into climate advocacy. Kraft ran for city council in 2019 and serves as the “at large A” council member until 2023.

A Commitment Spurred by Youth Activism

In 2015, youth activists in St. Louis Park brought the City Council a report card grading the city’s climate action efforts. The city’s overall score? B minus, says Kraft, including a failing grade for its (nonexistent) climate action plan. The teens proposed that the council create a climate action plan and set a target for net zero emissions. They also wanted a seat at the table.

It’s really a symbiotic relationship that we value.

— Emily Ziring

The St. Louis Park Council responded with 2016’s Community Planning Guide. Not everything in the guide came to be, says Kraft, but it set the foundation for several steps forward. These include youth involvement (two seats on the environment and sustainability commission are reserved for youth), a building energy benchmarking ordinance, and the Solar Sundown pilot. The students’ advocacy ultimately resulted in the city’s Climate Action Plan and a goal of carbon neutrality, city-wide, by the year 2040.

The first step to reaching this ambitious goal, says Kraft, is sourcing one hundred percent renewable electricity. The electrification of other energy use will follow.

Will St. Louis Park Reach 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030?

Municipal operations are already 100 percent renewable through Xcel Energy’s Windsource credits, says Kraft. St. Louis Park encourages residents to sign up for utility clean energy programs as well, but it does not stop there.

As part of St. Louis Park’s renewable energy commitment, the Council set a goal for 10 percent of electricity consumption to come from local solar. Through Solar Sundown, the city will “share costs for the installation of rooftop solar on qualifying buildings.” Since not every rooftop is suitable for solar, says Ziring, St. Louis Park has mapped out which properties have the most potential.

Minnesota also has a booming community solar program. There are not yet any community solar gardens in St. Louis Park, but Ziring says they hope to install one. The city also works to educate residents of the possibilities for solar, whether that be on their roof or a subscription to community solar.

Net Zero Emissions by 2040

To reach the longer-term goals in the climate action plan, Kraft says he keeps an ear to the ground. Innovative ideas are emerging across the country and around the globe. One that he mentions is water main geothermal, a technology that can leverage the heat or cool in water mains to heat or cool buildings. Kraft is optimistic that the 20 year timeline is long enough to make big changes, even ones that seem intimidating in the short term.


Hear geothermal expert Jay Egg explain the potential for water main geothermal in episode 111 of the Local Energy Rules podcast.


For some parts of the goal, says Ziring, the city is relying on external groups. In a city the size of St. Louis Park, many things are beyond their scope and are instead addressed that the county, state, or regional level. Still, St. Louis Park advocates for policies at other levels of government that will help the city reach its goals. Ziring also raises the importance of filing comments in the utility regulatory progress.

We can do a lot on our own, but we need help from the state policy to be able to achieve our goals.

– Larry Kraft


See which states enable local clean energy action in our 2021 Community Power Scorecard.


A City of “Accommodation”

As Jewish people were pushed out of the Twin Cities in the 50s and 60s, they relocated to St. Louis Park. This migration instilled “a DNA of accommodation and listening” in the community, says Kraft. Now, one of the city’s stated top five priorities is “being a leader in racial equity and inclusion in order to create a more just and inclusive community for all.”

Ziring believes that there is evidence of the city’s commitment to equity within the climate action plan. For example, under various programs, minority owned businesses and low-income residents are given special consideration.

We really don’t want climate action to be something that only wealthy people can afford to do. And we certainly don’t want the economic benefits to be felt only by those who spend the most money.

– Emily Ziring

Advice for Other Small Cities

Ziring’s advice is to read a lot, see what others are doing, and be open to new ideas. She says to even explore things that are outside of the climate action plan.

Although we try to focus most of our resources on policies and programs that provide the most carbon reduction bang for the buck, we really can’t afford to turn away new ideas given this crisis

— Emily Ziring

Kraft (along with Abby Finis of the Great Plains Institute) hosts a podcast exploring equitable solutions to climate change for smaller cities. You can find the podcast, City Climate Corner, on the web or on Apple Podcasts. Kraft recommends that other cities set whatever goal they can, be it long term or short, and go after it.

Having that aggressive 20 year time horizon goal requires us to think differently and maybe break through some walls that you didn’t think you could

— Larry Kraft

Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.


This is the 26th episode of our special  Voices of 100% series, and episode 128 of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

Local Energy Rules is Produced by ILSR’s John Farrell and Maria McCoy. Audio engineering by Drew Birschbach.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update

Featured photo credit: Halfpoint via iStock

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Maria McCoy

Maria McCoy is a research associate with the Energy Democracy Initiative. In this role, she contributes to blog posts, podcasts, video content, and interactive features.